ACLU-PA meets with Congressman Mike Doyle

As part of the June 26 Day of Action, members of the ACLU Pittsburgh Chapter paid a lobby visit to Congressman Mike Doyle to urge him to continue his opposition to the Military Commissions Act and to demand an end to prisoner torture. Doyle was responsive and supported the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the restoration of habeas corpus to prisoners held there. I hope we got the message across that Pennsylvanians care enough about these issues to effect the next election.

Nawshin in Pittsburgh

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The power of the district attorney

I have a Google Alert for the phrase “death penalty Pennsylvania.” Whenever these words come up in the media, I get an email with a link to the article.

Yesterday this came up:

DAs Running Wild – Washington,DC,USA
While former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong is no longer free to deny justice to other defendants, the prosecutors in many of those death penalty …

This drew my attention. What happened to Mike Nifong in Durham, NC, was an aberration. Usually when district attorneys behave badly, nothing happens. Sometimes they even get promoted.

Much to my surprise, the authors of the article were Christopher Hill and William Webster of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project:

While the Duke players faced a real risk of going to prison, there are other citizens of North Carolina and elsewhere across the country who have faced even greater risks because of prosecutorial misconduct, who have been sent to death row and even been executed. While former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong is no longer free to deny justice to other defendants, the prosecutors in many of those death penalty cases are still allowed to practice law. State ethics boards have, in effect, allowed death before disbarment.

While Mike Nifong deserved what he got, there are many more DAs and ADAs who deserve the same fate. Some of them are working in DA offices in Pennsylvania.

The article goes on to mention the case of Dennis Counterman of Allentown. Then-ADA Richard Tomsho withheld at least seven pieces of evidence that pointed to Counterman’s innocence in the house fire that killed Counterman’s three sons. With that crucial evidence hidden from the defense, Counterman landed on Pennsylvania’s death row. It was only after 18 years in prison that Counterman finally found a twisted form of justice when he was released after winning a new trial and then taking a plea bargain.

(Paul Carpenter of The Morning Call of Allentown effectively took Tomsho to task in a column last fall.)

And Tomsho? He now works for Attorney General Tom Corbett. There are rumblings that Corbett wants to run for governor. If Corbett hires someone like Tomsho for his AG staff, who would he hire for his gubernatorial staff? Tony Soprano?

Andy in Harrisburg

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If you wanna end torture, make some noise!

What a day yesterday in D.C.! Several thousand people from all over America gathered in Washington to rally to Restore Law & Justice. After a raucous rally, the masses stormed the hill to talk with senators and reps about these fundamental issues.

By tomorrow, we’ll have pics on our MySpace page and on our website. In the meantime, check out national’s website, which includes the list of speakers and the video of each speaker. I particularly liked the Rev. Lennox Yearwood from the Hip Hop Caucus.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Cheney exploits executive powers to push agenda of torture

Tomorrow, on June 26, 2007, thousands of ACLU supporters will rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to call on Congress to restore habeas corpus, fix the Military Commissions Act, and restore our constitutional rights. Three years after the horrific images of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib were released, the tactics of torture endure. The Washington Post writes:

Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, pioneered a novel distinction between forbidden “torture” and permitted use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading” methods of questioning. They did not originate every idea to rewrite or reinterpret the law, but fresh accounts from participants show that they translated muscular theories, from Yoo and others, into the operational language of government.

A backlash beginning in 2004, after reports of abuse leaked out of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay, brought what appeared to be sharp reversals in courts and Congress — for Cheney’s claims of executive supremacy and for his unyielding defense of what he called “robust interrogation.”

But a more careful look at the results suggests that Cheney won far more than he lost. Many of the harsh measures he championed, and some of the broadest principles undergirding them, have survived intact but out of public view.

The vice president’s unseen victories attest to traits that are often ascribed to him but are hard to demonstrate from the public record: thoroughgoing secrecy, persistence of focus, tactical flexibility in service of fixed aims and close knowledge of the power map of government. On critical decisions for more than six years, Cheney has often controlled the pivot points — tipping the outcome when he could, engineering stalemate when he could not and reopening debates that rivals thought were resolved.

For more information about the ACLU rally, visit

Nawshin in Pittsburgh

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Barletta called out by fellow mayors

Oh, snap, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta got punk’d by fellow PA mayors over his immigration boondoggle.

“To suggest that enforcement be done on the local level is ridiculous,” York Mayor John Brenner said. “We provide for public safety and we prevent crime, but it is not our job to be the (Immigration and Naturalization Service). To try and do this locally is something that is abhorrent to what we’re about.”

There never should have been an attempt to address illegal immigration on a local level, Lancaster Mayor J. Richard Gray said Wednesday during a break in the conference.

“That’s a national issue and not a municipal or state level issue,” he said. “The issue came up briefly in Lancaster and I felt it was full of politics and full of divisiveness. We have a large Puerto Rican population, including lawyers and businessman and we are for inclusion … we are a nation of immigrants.”

Most immigrants are trying to build better lives and should be supported, Meadville Mayor Richard Friedberg said.

“I don’t think (Hazleton’s position) is a step in the right direction because most municipalities are trying to build inclusive communities,” Friedberg said. “This (Hazleton’s policy) goes against that.”…

Titusville Mayor Brian Sanford said Barletta is in a no-win situation.

“That is fighting a problem you can’t fight,” Sanford said. “We, on the municipal level, cannot enforce that kind of thing and neither can the state. It is a waste of resources.”

Other mayors, including Ed Pawlowski of Allentown, Rick Vilello of Lock Haven, Luke Ravenstahl of Pittsburgh and Scranton’s Chris Doherty all oppose an anti-illegal immigration bill on the local level.

“I don’t agree with Mr. Barletta,” Doherty said.

But at least Lou Dobbs agrees with him!

Andy in Harrisburg

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Death Penalty and Deterrence: Irrational murderers expected to act rationally

Last week an Associated Press article about the deterrent effect of the death penalty created some temporary buzz. Trouble was that the studies that inspired the article have all been debunked for poor methodology.

Cassy Stubbs, a staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, effectively answered the points raised in the AP article with a piece at Huffington Post.

A June 10 Associated Press article pointed to statistical studies that claimed to directly link numbers of executions with numbers of murders prevented, including a 2003 study from the University of Colorado at Denver and studies from 2003 and 2006 by researchers at Emory University. But follow-up studies by top social scientists soundly reject those conclusions as well as the flawed methodology used to reach them. Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert on statistics, testified to Congress that the Emory and Denver studies were “fraught with numerous technical and conceptual errors,” and “fail[ed] to reach the demanding standards of social science.”

The truth is that it might be impossible to determine a true statistical relationship between homicides and executions because the number of executions is so small compared to the number of homicides. But what we can say with certainty is that there is no legitimate statistical evidence of deterrence.

Cassy’s post points out the comparison in homicide rates between the U.S. and Canada, which has no death penalty. My answer to all of this is pretty simple: If the death penalty is a deterrent, why does Texas consistently have one of the highest murder rates in the country? (I can already hear the answer from the trolls- “It’s all those Mexicans!”)

Andy in Harrisburg

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Victory! Sameh Khouzam wins indefinite stay of deportation

Today a federal judge in the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted Sameh Khouzam an indefinite stay of deportation. The opinion by Judge Thomas Vanaskie had some beauts. Here are a few of our favorites:

Finally, the public interest will be advanced by granting a stay. As
noted above, protection against torture is an essential component of the rule of law and a democratic society. While Khouzam may have no right to be in the United States, he most assuredly has a right not to be tortured. Granting a stay of removal to assure proper observance of the applicable law serves the public interest…

The protection against torture on which the principle of non-return rests is a fundamental right that is important to the rule of law and essential to a democratic society…

[N]o showing has been made by Respondents that removal based upon diplomatic assurances by a country known to have engaged in torture is consistent with the CAT (Convention Against Torture)…

Respondents’ construction of the REAL ID Act to bar any judicial review of the Secretary of Homeland Security’s decision to terminate an alien’s deferral of removal raises substantial constitutional questions.

There is still more to come as our legal team tries to spring him from jail. Justice 1, Torture 0.

Andy in Harrisburg

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The (Harrisburg) Patriot News: Facts, logic missing from immigration debate

Today The Patriot News of Harrisburg lamented the death of the immigration bill. (This was obviously written before the apparent resurrection of the bill.)

This section of the editorial particularly caught my eye:

Everyone would do well to take note of a recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was outlined in the Washington Post. Although specific to North Carolina, it mirrors similar studies in Texas, Arkansas and other states.

Hispanic immigrants in North Carolina, both illegal and legal, paid $756 million in state taxes and contributed more than $9 billion to the state’s economy in 2004. They are responsible for booming North Carolina exports to Latin America that have created 70,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, since most immigrants are young to middle-age adults, they won’t collect Social Security or Medicare for years to come. And the sales taxes they pay and the income taxes deducted from paychecks help fund education, transportation and other public services.

But logic, not to mention facts, don’t seem to matter much in this debate.

Andy in Harrisburg

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US government deports disabled US citizen to Mexico

It’s funny – I keep hearing complaints about how our government doesn’t deport people who are in this country illegally. Lately, they seem intent on deporting people who are here legally.

Aside from our client Sameh Khouzam (see posts below on his case), it turns out that
federal immigration officers and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department illegally deported a U.S. citizen, Pedro Guzman, to Mexico last month. The ACLU of Southern California and a law firm have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking his safe return.

According to the ACLU of Southern California, Guzman “was born in Los Angeles and raised in Lancaster, California. He was serving time at Men’s Central Jail for a misdemeanor offense when he was deported to Tijuana May 10 or 11. Mr. Guzman is developmentally disabled, does not read or write English well, and knows no one in Tijuana. He declared at his booking that he was born in California.”

On Wednesday a US District judge ruled he wasn’t sure that he had the authority to order the government to help find Pedro Guzman, though he said it would be the “right” and “moral” thing to do, according to an AP story.

The story goes on to say that “U.S. immigration officials confirmed he had been deported and said the agency had done so correctly.”

Sara in Philly

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It’s time: End workplace and housing discrimination against LGBT community

Yesterday may have been the beginning of the end of discrimination against the LGBT community in Pennsylvania. 70 state representatives introduced legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The 70 co-sponsors represent 69% of the 102 votes needed for passage. In April, a similar bill was introduced in the PA Senate with 22 co-sponsors, 85% of the 26 votes needed to pass it.

Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh) kicked off the press conference by stating it was time to move Pennsylvania’s law “into the 21st century” and noted that 20 states provide this protection on sexual orientation.

In a press release, our own Larry Frankel (no relation to Dan) said

We are very encouraged by the record number of legislators who have signed on as co-sponsors of this bill and we think it is a good sign for future progress.

There is little about this that is controversial. According to a Gallup poll, 85% of Americans believe that the LGBT community should be protected from discrimination. This is a no-brainer. Ok, that’s a loaded phrase to use in reference to the capitol, but you catch my drift…

Andy in Harrisburg

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